How about a nice 277-year-old remedy?

by bugzinthehood on December 21, 2006 · 12 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, fire, misinformation

One reader asked how people got rid of bed bugs, say, about the year 1910 before modern chemical treatments were invented. Well, how about the year 1730 and this published formula?

Warning: This is extremely flammable. We have not used this method and we strongly recommend you do not either.


(Note: originally, we linked to an online source, since taken offline)

24 January 1730

A physician communicates this well-experienced receipt for the destroying of buggs, with which he entirely cleared his own beds, &c. five years ago, and has told it to scores of families since, who have all found the same effects by it, and never saw a bugg afterwards.

Take of the highest rectified spirit of wine, (viz. lamp spirits) that will burn all away dry, and leave not the least moisture behind, half a pint’s newly distilled oil, or spirit of turpentine, half a pint; mix them together, and break into it, in small bits, half an ounce of camphire, which will dissolve in it in a few minutes; shake them well together, and with a piece of spunge, or a brush dipt in some of it, wet very well the bed or furniture wherein those vermine harbour and breed, and it will infallibly kill and destroy both them and their nitts, altho’ they swarm ever so much: But then the bed or furniture must be well and thoroughly wet with it, (the dust upon them being first brushed and shook off) by which means it will neither stain, soil, or in the least hurt the finest silk or damask bed that is. The quantity here offered of this curious neat white mixture, (which costs but about a shilling) will rid any one bed whatsoever, tho’ it swarms with buggs: Do but touch a live bugg with a drop of it, and you will find it to die instantly. If any bugg or buggs should happen to appear after once using it, it will only be for want of well wetting the lacing, &c. of the bed, or the foldings of the linings or curtains near the rings, or the joints or holes in and about the bed, head-board, &c. wherein the buggs and nitts nestle and breed, and then their being well wet all again with more of the same mixture, which dries in as fast as you use it, pouring some of it into the joints and holes where the spunge or brush cannot reach, will never fail absolutely to destroy them all. Some beds that have much wood-work, can hardly be thoroughly cleared, without being first taken down; but others that can be drawn out, or that you can get well behind, to be done as it should be, may.



A few definitions:

Camphire: henna flowers

Rectified spirit of wine: a form of brandy

Lamp spirits: I’m guessing kerosene

1 Bugalina December 21, 2006 at 3:39 pm

Can someone translate the recipe exactly if that is possible….

2 jessinchicago December 21, 2006 at 5:48 pm

I KNEW you were going to ask that!!!


3 Bugalina December 21, 2006 at 8:51 pm

Bug of course….I am willing to go to the ends of the earth and back…to kill the bastards !!!! Bugalina

4 jessinchicago December 21, 2006 at 10:36 pm

I know. I was going to ask too, actually. Hehehee.

5 nobugsonme December 22, 2006 at 1:42 am

Bugz, can you give us a link to the source if its online? Thanks!

6 bugzinthehood December 23, 2006 at 12:48 pm

I found this on a site which features 18th century news stories. I’ll post the link to the bed bug remedy first and the link to the overall site second.

Purely from a historical perspective, all the articles are very interesting, if that’s your bent.

7 hopelessnomo' December 24, 2006 at 1:15 am

In the same vein, don’t forget weird Dr. Campbell’s corrosive sublimate saturated solution… whatever that is?

“In order to make sure of their destruction, I believe that the application of a saturated alcoholic solution of corrosive sublimate, used with constant vigilance, will do the work, as this solution not only kills the adult insects but, by combining with the albumen of the egg, renders the latter sterile.”

-From “My Observations on Bedbugs”

8 nobugsonme December 25, 2006 at 2:19 am

I was talking to a man tonight who told me that a product used to be sold which was partly kerosene (but watered down, I guess) to spray for bedbugs.

9 Bugalina December 25, 2006 at 11:18 am

petroleum distillates were used in conjuntion with pesticides, like DDT..I believe that petroleum distillates are used in order to “set” the pesticide. The product the man was referring to was probably DDT…Kerosene is a thin oil derived from petroleum, or coal. I am not versed in chemistry but I think the oil probably gives the pesticide its ability to set and adher to surfaces. Deb

10 nobugsonme December 25, 2006 at 1:57 pm

I don’t know, Bugalina– this was a spray that people could buy for themselves. Was it really the case that people could buy a product with DDT in the store?

11 Bugalina December 25, 2006 at 9:20 pm

Yes.. I have such a can !! My friend, who worked for Dow Chemical as an engineer is a saver of stuff…and when I confided in him about my bed bugs he brought the can to my house…The can I have is an aerosol spray with a 3 percent DDT in it..It is a small can.5 ozs..I got some of the spray out but the nozzle clogged..its from the 1960’s..It was sprayed in every single airplane that came from foreign countries…My friend told me that everytime he flew out of the country, upon his return the flight attendants would go up and down the aircraft spraying this aerosol..the instructions are on the can and it specifically states that it is for “alien bugs”…We all know what THAT means !! .I called the company in Kansas that made it and actually spoke to the Pres. of the company…unfortunately they don’t make it anymore !!! The Pres. was very nice, and was surprised that I had a can…he told me that the last year it was mfg. was , I think, 1968….DDT was banned in the US in the early 70’s I think…so this timeline would make sense…DDT was sold in garden stores for garden use by Ortho..just like the stuff they sell now..for garden pests. My Father and Uncles used Ortho DDT in their vegetable gardens to kill off insect pests..When they spray trees they use pesticides with an oil base…again, I think that it is because the oil will keep the chemicals set..I am only surmising this..with a little research we could find out..but DDT was just another pesticide.. and it was found in powder form and liquid form ( with petroleum distillates) and in aerosol cans….bugalina

12 nobugsonme December 27, 2006 at 1:02 am

Thanks Bugalina! Very interesting.

Bring on the DDT research: if bed bugs are resistant to it, let’s confirm that.

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